By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org
A ranking Broward County Transit official has resigned amid an internal corruption and waste investigation triggered by a whistleblower’s complaint.
Lorin S. Swirsky, transit manager for information technology, had been suspended without pay since June 3 after county investigators determined he lied about having a computer science degree from the University of Miami.
“He made the choice to resign. He called me personally,” said Broward Transportation Director Chris Walton.
Swirsky was fingered in a whistleblower complaint submitted to the county in March that includes other, more serious allegations. One is that Swirsky and Associate Director Rebecca Blitman may have “misled” the county commission into awarding a $13.3 million, no-bid contract last year to a North Carolina company that sells digital communications equipment for buses.
The whistleblower also told authorities that in 2007 Swirsky and Blitman authorized the payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars to the company – Digital Recorders, Inc. – for an automatic bus passenger counting system (APC) that didn’t work.
The system was initially installed on 55 buses at a cost of more than $470,000, but allegedly failed a final acceptance test. The two officials, after coercing a transit project manager to pay DRI, outfitted 98 other buses with the system, but most of them weren’t reporting data either, the whistleblower alleges.
“I have no comment,” said Swirsky, who lives in Coral Springs. Blitman has declined comment.
Despite assertions made in the whistleblower complaint, Walton said that the system is fully operational today.
“I’m very happy to tell you the last time I checked things were working quite well. The information is being reported from the buses and is being used and is quite accurate,” Walton said.
Walton met recently with DRI officials to discuss “contractual expectations.” He said he believes the company “is doing a good job.”
A copy of the 12-page whistleblower complaint was obtained by Broward Bulldog. The complaint does not name the whistleblower, whose identity is protected under state law. You can read an earlier story here.
County investigators currently are pulling together purchasing and transit records, looking at contracts and payments to verify the whistleblower’s complaint.
The first phase of the investigation focused on vetting accusations about the educational background of Swirsky and another county transit employee.
The findings are spelled out in a report by Office of Professional Standards that was reviewed and signed June 11 by County Administrator Bertha Henry.
Senior Investigator Steven D. Patterson wrote that Swirsky told investigators on June 4 that he had a Bachelor of Science degree from UM. But school officials later reported that Swirsky had no science degree, though he did attend the university for one year in the early 1970s while majoring in communications.
To get the county job in 2007, the report says, Swirsky “submitted a fake/manufactured diploma from the University of Miami.” Patterson recommended “appropriate disciplinary action.”
Falsely claiming an academic degree is a first degree misdemeanor under Florida law, punishable by up to a year in prison.
The whistleblower complaint alleges that after DRI was “paid in full” for the passenger counting system, Swirsky and Blitman apparently “orchestrated” the no-bid deal to mask what the county was actually buying.
On April 28, 2009, commissioners voted to modify an existing sole source contract with DRI to upgrade a bus announcement system originally purchased in 2002 for about $2 million.
But the complaint says that’s not what the county really bought. In fact, the county got an altogether different kind of bus communication system that DRI was selling, but had yet to deploy at any other large transit agency – an Automatic Vehicle Location/Computer Aided Dispatch system (AVL/CAD).
“Note the glaring omission (in the county’s agenda item) of any reference to an AVL/CAD system,” the complaint says. “It is most likely that an upgrade of this single announcement system would cost BCT over $13 million.”
The whistleblower urged investigators to follow the trail in purchasing records find out who made that happen.
“Some at BCT had to provide information to county purchasing personnel that formed the basis of emails and documentation provided by purchasing personnel that in turn created the mechanisms for approval by the Board of County Commissioners,” the complaint says.